13 November 2001

[File on Jonnie Hargis incident deleted at request of author, 9 December 2003. Alternate account of Hargis incident provided below.]


9 December 2003


UCLA Librarian Appeals Suspension For Mass E-mail
Letter Sent to Co-Workers Criticized U.S. Foreign Policy

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Daily Cal Staff Writer
Monday, October 15, 2001

A UCLA librarian, who was suspended without pay last month for sending a mass e-mail criticizing U.S. foreign policy, has filed a grievance with the university administration.

Jonnie Hargis, an assistant librarian at the UCLA Young Research Library, said he was suspended from Sept. 17 to 21 because of his response to a patriotic mass e-mail sent by a co-worker in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The grievance, which was filed Oct. 5, is expected to be addressed this week or next week.

"The e-mail I got was flag waving nonsense. It was offensive to me and I responded to it," he said.

Hargis responded with another mass e-mail to the recipients of the original message, in which he wrote that U.S. taxpayers "fund and arm an apartheid state called Israel, which is responsible for untold thousands upon thousands of deaths of Muslim Palestinian children and civilians." Hargis ended his e-mail with, "So, who are the 'terrorists' anyway?"

Administrators cited Hargis's e-mail as being in violation of university library policy, which states that "sending unsolicited e-mails containing political, religious or even patriotic messages to groups … is unacceptable use of library e-mail."

This policy was sent out by Terry Ryan, head of UCLA Library Information Systems, on Sept. 14—the same day Hargis was notified of his suspension.

Hargis said the policy is particularly upsetting because it seems to contradict the current standing campus e-mail policy, which states that "the University, in general, cannot and does not wish to be the arbiter of Electronic Mail … or protect users from receiving Electronic Mail they may find offensive."

"I wasn't even sending out something offensive, like pornography," Hargis said. "I was simply making a statement about our foreign policy. This is like the thought police—this is something out of Orwell. They are trying to find me guilty of something that existed after I did it."

A UCLA spokesperson declined to comment, saying "policy prohibits commenting on personnel issues."

A notice suspending Hargis informed him that his e-mail "demonstrated a lack of sensitivity that went beyond incivility and became harassment."

It also stated that Hargis had sent "extreme e-mails" in the past and described his comments as contributing to a "hostile and threatening environment" for some co-workers and colleagues with ties to Israel.

"They make me seem like a raving lunatic," he said. "But it all comes down to people with ties to Israel who don't want their sacred cow criticized. People can debate that with me, and that is an issue that should be debated. But I should be allowed to say what I think."

Michelle Torre, an employee in Hargis's department, sent the first e-mail that spurred Hargis's response. The e-mail referred to a speech entitled "America: The Good Neighbor" written by Canadian broadcaster Gordon Sinclair.

Torre said in a statement that no disciplinary action was taken against her, but she would not comment further on the subject.

Claudia Horning, president of the UCLA Coalition of University Employees union, said this disciplinary case is quite unusual because of the historic role that libraries have played in defending First Amendment liberties.

"This is actually pretty ironic because librarians have usually taken a pretty strong stand on free speech rights—as far as censorship of written materials is concerned," Horning said.

Hargis, who has been working at the Young Library for 22 years, said the situation has caused him much frustration, both socially with co-workers and financially.

"This is infuriating to me," he said. "Who is the university to take one-fourth of my pay for one month for exercising my right to free speech? I don't make that much to begin with—I'm a library assistant for God's sake. When this happened, I had to borrow money from my girlfriend."

Liza Go, Hargis's union representative, said the grievance filed by the union asks that the university rescind its discipline of Hargis and return benefits and back wages. The union also seeks an apology from library management and sensitivity training in the workplace.

"Everybody has the right to send and receive speech," Go said. "There is no law that says you can only transmit nonpolitical, noncontroversial, perky e-mails."

According to Go, the union has filed the grievance and is expecting a formal response sometime next week.

In the meantime, Hargis has gained fame through his appearances on several radio talk shows and two articles in the student newspaper, the Daily Bruin.

"They just didn't count on me fighting like this," he said. "They know that what they have done is in violation of the First Amendment, and I will fight this to the bitter end."